Neil Gaiman didn’t have to. He could have quite well been left alone. After 30 years of shutting down all “bad” attempts to adapt his best-selling Vertigo graphic novel series “The Sandman,” Gaiman could have decided to let dreams of an adaptation of “The Sandman” die with The Nightmare That Was Most Recent Attempt: A Feature Film starring and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Warner Bros. New Line, which collapsed in 2016.
The live-action television series “The Sandman” produced by Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, which was ordered to series on Netflix in June 2019, finally launches on Friday. So why did Gaiman try again?
“In many ways, that’s the only question we can ask,” said Gaiman, executive producer and writer of the series, alongside David Goyer and showrunner Allan Heinberg (“Grey’s Anatomy”). “And weirdly, when Allan and David Goyer and I sat down to dinner together, basically the night before we were going to pitch this to Netflix and the world, that was our question. Why would we do that? And why would we do that now? Especially for me, after three decades of preventing bad “Sandman” adaptations from happening. By hook or by crook, by fair or rude means, I’ve blocked and stopped so many bad “Sandman” movies. Go to Google Isn’t It Cool News Description from the script of the Jon Peters version of ‘Sandman’ [developed in 1996], in which on page five, Morpheus says to the police coming to arrest him, “As if your puny weapons could hurt me, the mighty Dream Lord, the Sandman.” And it gets worse from there.
In his lengthy analysis of why he decided to reawaken the idea with Netflix’s 10-episode first season of “The Sandman,” which follows his first two (of 10) graphic novels about the adventures of Dream (Tom Sturridge ), aka Morpheus, aka The Sandman, Gaiman — the author of other beloved titles like “American Gods” and “Good Omens,” which have also been adapted for Starz and Amazon, respectively — gave an in-depth triple response , which we’ve included in full here:
For me, in part I was going, it will happen. A “Sandman” adaptation will take place. If you look at the spine of the giant Taschen book about DC Comics history, it weighed about 15 pounds, and on the side there’s Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Morpheus, the Sandman, and their faces are looking at you. And everyone knew it was the crown jewel that hadn’t been adapted. And after 30 years,
“Sandman,” at this point, is probably the best-selling graphic novel series ever released in the United States. You know it’s going to happen. So part of it is accepting, well OK, if it’s going to happen, why not make it good?
“Sandman” as a series of graphic novels, as comics, allowed me to tell the world things that I believed in. They were things about inclusivity. They were things about humanity. There were things about shared humanity. There were things about dreams and things about death. There were words of comfort and there were words of warning. And at the time, when I said them, they were important and I felt they were true and I felt it was right to say them; including, you have your story and your story is important, and including, you get a life. And those are the things I wanted to say. And I don’t think any of those things are less important or less relevant now. And actually, I feel like in this kind of weird world where sometimes I feel like people are fragmenting and forming into smaller and smaller groups and closing ranks and considering anyone from the ‘other side as the enemy, that people must be reminded that standing next to them is someone who contains a thousand worlds and each world is a door and through each door is a place of which you never dreamed. And people are cooler below the surface than you ever imagined. And I wanted to remind people of that.
And then the third thing, which was having done “Good Omens”, I felt like I knew how to do that. When “American Gods” premiered, I was an executive producer, which meant I had to give notes — which were ignored. But it was fine. I was part of the thing. After doing “Good Omens”, I suddenly felt like I couldn’t be bullshit anymore. I did this, I did this. So when I was saying to people, “Can we do this? and they would say, “No, we can’t do that. It would cost too much. I would say, “No, no, no.” I did it. I truly know that all we need is a wall for this to happen. So knowing that I have the skills to really lead this thing and work with it, and that I wasn’t going to be intimidated, but that I really enjoyed doing, was also the other part for me.
Towards the end of Gaiman’s decades-long battle against bad adaptations of “The Sandman,” “Batman Begins,” and “Foundation,” writer Goyer became interested in trying out what he hoped would be the only version not hurt Gaiman’s (and fans’) eyes. To minimize the risk, Goyer insisted with Warner Bros. for Gaiman to be an active producer and co-writer on the pilot.
Sources say Goyer was also adamant that ‘The Sandman’ wasn’t “dumbed down” and was “kept weird”, and any attempt to make it “formal” was rejected by Goyer and Gaiman. Finally, in June 2019, Goyer and Gaiman’s dream came true and Warner Bros. began looking for a showrunner to handle the day-to-day organization and execution of an adaptation of “The Sandman” television series. Enter Heinberg, elder of Shondaland.
“It was a very strange circumstance. Timing was everything with it,” Heinberg said. “My three-year contract with ABC Studios was ending just as I met Warner Bros. to possibly do something with them. And every time I’ve met them over the past 25 years, I’ve always asked them, “When are you doing ‘The Sandman?’ David. Do you know David Goyer? And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve known David Goyer for years. Does David write it? And they said, ‘No, David is the executive producer, but he’s doing ‘Foundation’. Actually, we’re looking for a writer. We all sort of looked at each other and Susan Rovner said, “Let me answer you.” And the moment I got in my car, David Goyer was calling me on my cell phone saying, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And I was like, ‘Look, if you and Neil already have a plan and you don’t want me to do it…’ And David was like, ‘Fuck you, you’re doing this. I call Neil. And that’s how it happened.
But Heinberg wasn’t really on board right away because, as he puts it, he “didn’t want to be the guy who ruined ‘Sandman’.”
“[I told Goyer,] “If Neil wants to do a panel-by-panel version of it, I don’t know how. I have worked with Shonda Rhimes for 15 years. I write relationship dramas. It’s going to take some adapting,” Heinberg said. “And David said, ‘Yes, and that’s why we need you. And Neil knows it. And you will see when you speak. And of course, in that first meeting, Neil brought up the big issue, which was, ‘OK, our leader is naked and quiet and in a cage for the whole pilot. What are we going to do to make the public fall in love with him? And I was like, ‘OK, he got it. Here is the big problem and he already wants to solve it at our first dinner. And then 24 hours later, we presented it to streamers.
Pause, because Gaiman has an interjection here that people in the industry will probably find amusing: “Actually, because you’re Variety, I’m going to put a footnote here: Allan tells people, and I tell people, because it’s a lot easier that way of saying, “And 24 hours later, we were pitching .” It’s not true. Dinner was Friday night. And the pitch was Monday morning. However, during that Saturday and then that Sunday, an impossible thing happened, namely Allan’s contract [with Warner Bros.] has been written, accepted and signed. Only because you are Variety, only because you understand that the real art form of Hollywood is the contract, I want to tell you that the impossible has been done. The contract was signed before Allan came to the meeting on Monday morning.
After Neil Gaiman’s “power pushing him”, according to Heinberg, it was time to pitch. And the winning bidder in what sources say was a very expensive auction was Netflix – a streamer full of “The Sandman” fans who were more than willing to take on the challenge of becoming the home of the highly anticipated, actually good “The Sandman”. Adaptation of The Sandman.
“He came from Warner Brothers and DC several years ago. I was leading the genre team at the time,” said Peter Friedlander, head of scripted series in the US and Canada. “And Channing Dungey [now CEO of Warner Bros. TV Studios] was here to oversee the theater team. And I vividly remember when we got the call about “Sandman” and I had other people on my team who were just IP superfans and had posters on their wall characters like Death. So when the call came it was a real exuberance, people jumped at the chance. We actually went to Warner to hear the presentation from Neil Gaiman and David Goyer and Allan Heinberg and the whole team there. And it was a very special presentation. I think we all knew that was something we would love to have for Netflix. And you had heard of different adaptations over the years, “Will it be, right?” And it felt like the time had finally come. The way they wanted to tell the story, I really think the technology was where they could really use the visual effects to tell the story they wanted through the medium. The stars had lined up to really finally bring ‘Sandman’ to fans in this way.
What followed was three years of writing, casting, filming and editing the full-scale series, which, with Sturridge, stars Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer, Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian, Patton Oswalt as the voice of Matthew the Raven, Vivienne Acheampong in Lucienne. , Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine, David Thewlis as John Dee, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Dream Death’s sister and Mason Alexander Park as Death Desire’s brother and Mark Hamill as Mervyn Pumpkinhead. If you know you know – and if you don’t, don’t worry, because “The Sandman” team is very excited to bring you these characters and this world as Gaiman built, staying true to the basic identity of comics.
(Pictured above: Tom Sturridge as Dream and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death in Netflix’s “The Sandman”)